5.5 Meters Below Surface: Exploring Norwegian Restaurant Under

In Norwegian, “under” has the dual meaning of “below” and “wonder”. It is also the name of a restaurant located at the southernmost point of the Lindesnes coastline in Norway, a restaurant five and a half meters below the surface of the water, exposing you to the wonders beneath the sea in a unique dining experience that goes way beyond expectations.

Located in the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean, the travel and stay is an integral part of the experience. Curiosity awakens at the sight of this thick concrete structure half-sunken into the sea. It’s hard to get the same kind of surprise when you’re in the middle of a bustling city.

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Each of the three storeys of the restaurant offers a unique view of the outside marine environment. At the seabed, 5.5 meters below sea level, lies the main dining area. Danish chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard will usher you into the journey which begins on the mezzanine level where appetizers are enjoyed; meanwhile the passage down the stairs is a metaphor for the journey of descending from land to sea. Like a sunken periscope, the panoramic eye of the building is an 11-meter-wide and 3.4-meter-tall horizontal window which offers a visual gateway to the sea and connects the guests to the wildlife outside. Wouldn’t it be therapeutic watching a school of jellyfish dancing outside your window while enjoying good food?

图片Author and Chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard

Under has an open kitchen where the kitchen team prepares every dish. There are some dishes particularly impressive at the dinner, such as the mahogany clam. These clams are typically between 60 and 100 years old, and they display their longevity through the visible lines on their reddish-brown shells. Vibrant and flavourful tomato water is used to enhance the delicate texture of the clams without overpowering their original taste. In addition, the elderflower oil gives a floral note that evokes a summery feeling and complements the overall composition.

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Under’s culinary journey is not all about clams. Eel fishing has been banned in Norway for many years but four years ago a group of fishermen started to test fishing to see if the eel population was going up, and the result was getting better and better each year. Thanks to them, more and more fishermen are getting the licence to fish eel again. Under’s way of serving the eel is with the Béchamel sauce, also a Scandinavian tradition. Using a technique called “pan chino” (Chinese bread), half a sphere of foam is deep-fried before the eel is added and the other half of the sphere is filled and deep-fried, resulting in a crunchy, marshmallow-like texture with a creamy, soft eel filling.

Another standout dish is the egg custard, in which Under uses green shore crab, a common but easily overlooked delicacy near the coastline. The crab shells are simmered to make a crab stock, added with cream and eggs to create a silky egg custard. On top of the custard are Arctic shrimps. These shrimps are usually too small to be sold at the market and are usually sent directly to the factory to make canned goods. But Under purchases them from local fishermen and often at higher prices to help the fishermen’s livelihoods. The shrimps are served raw to retain their delicious nutty flavour and seasoned with the seaweed (especially the candied kelp) placed around the bowl.

图片Egg Custard

The menu includes langoustine, a dish that is hard not to like. The chef is very particular about the size of the langoustine: only those between 21 and 24 centimetres long are selected. The accompanying sauce is made from the liver of the langoustine, which is roasted in their shells and then mixed with pickled plum, cream and vinegar aged for seven years to create a harmonious balance of flavours.

Under also pays homage to native Norwegian cuisine. Inspired by the stuffed puff pastry pithivier in Bergen, the lamb dish combines the neck and the front leg. The back legs are salted and cured using a traditional technique called “Fenalår” in Norway, which ensures a depth of flavour, tenderness of the meat and a lingering aftertaste.

图片Langoustine

Many friends asked me about my views on Under’s cuisine. Chef Nicolai Ellitsgaard honours local ingredients, cares about local community, and works closely with local suppliers while he brings out the best of ingredients in every dish.

The story of Under began in 2010, when the family who owns the restaurant initially wanted to build an underwater hotel. However, given the magnitude of the project, they began to look for alternative solutions to revitalise the area. In 2016, they asked if chef Ellitsgaard would like to take part in the project, who at that time was considering leaving the culinary world but knew instantly that the project was meant to be successful. The collaboration resulted in Under, an underwater restaurant that goes beyond expectations.

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Under was awarded a Michelin star in February 2020, ten months after its opening in April 2019. Despite twists and turns brought by the pandemic, the restaurant did relatively good. In addition to its fantastic location, the restaurant has attracted a diverse team of talents from 14 countries.
Under’s cuisine showcases a harmonious connection between nature and cooking. Through the lens of its remoteness, breathtaking scenery and thoughtfully crafted dishes, one can savour the flavours of the ocean while being immersed in the mysteries of the sea. Surmounting the initial ambition of being a destination restaurant, Under has become an icon of culinary innovation.
Author: Jocelyn 华姐
Photo: Jocelyn 华姐

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Jocelyn Chen
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